PREVIEW: Peacock’s ‘A Friend of the Family’ is creepy, harrowing and based on a true story

Credit: Peacock

Credit: Peacock

Anna Paquin, Colin Hanks and Jake Lacey star

Jake Lacy played an entitled jerk with precision on HBO’s award-winning 2021 series “White Lotus.” Now he’s back embodying a man with far more complicated and questionable motives: Robert Berchtold, a neighbor and close friend of the Broberg family in the 1970s.

Berchtold, a sexual predator, not only kidnapped Broberg’s daughter Jan at age 12 but managed to do so again when she was 14. Over nine episodes in Peacock’s fictionalized and metro Atlanta-shot “A Friend of the Family,” this harrowing, often infuriating story unspools with a sense of empathy for the Broberg family while amplifying Berchtold’s moral abyss.

The first three episodes came out Thursday, Oct. 6 with the next six each coming out weekly on the streaming service.

Playing a con man was challenging for Lacy but a good challenge, made easier by well-written material, he said.

“You have to unravel the layers of Berthold as a person, then the fake layers built on top of that for each individual person he interacted with. There are seven trains running at once. He’s trying to stay out of jail. He has Jan in another state and he has his own family to juggle.”

Jan Broberg, now 60, is an executive producer for the limited series and worked hard to ensure the series felt authentic. “I even got to share some of my personal things they actually placed on set,” said Broberg in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also spent time on set at the brick Smyrna home that masqueraded as her childhood home.

Broberg said her mother Mary Ann Broberg saved diaries, hand-written notes and clothing from that era. Other items too fragile to use on set were replicated. “My father wanted to burn it all, but she said, ‘No! We’re keeping everything!”” Broberg said.

Her availability helped Emmy-nominated actress McKenna Grace as she played the older version of Broberg. “I talked to her very often,” Grace said. “I’d ask her things and send her pictures from the set. She’d give me whole backstories on a dress I was wearing. That was so cool.”

Credit: Peacock

Credit: Peacock

Nick Antosca, who created this series along with recent Hulu true-crime dramas “The Act” and “Candy,” said he was drawn to “A Friend of the Family” because at first, it’s “so terrifying and so strange.” Then, he said, once “you dig deep under the surface and think about it, it becomes more relatable and human. We all have vulnerabilities that can be used against us by someone who we love and trust. It’s very hard to admit.”

Indeed, Jan’s parents were roundly criticized for their perceived gullibility after the 2019 documentary about their story, “Abducted in Plain Sight,” came out.

“We were real people,” Broberg said. “This was a slow burn. It was hard on me because I had such wonderful parents. They didn’t realize that this man was grooming them, too. If people can see that, maybe we can avoid more of this type of child abuse. But it’s still happening today.”

Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin play Broberg’s parents, who are drawn in by Berchtold’s often subtle manipulations, lies and threats.

“I didn’t understand the man,” said Hanks, of Robert, Jan’s father. “I didn’t understand why the character made decisions that he made. After doing a bunch of research on his faith and watching the documentary and texting with Jan and asking questions, I kind of grasped at every straw to find his essence. Deep down, he was a good man. So I did my best to show how Berchtold put his goodness to the test.”

Weirdly, he said Robert’s unflattering 1970s-era comb-over made it easier for him to play the man.

“It freed me up,” Hanks said. “This was the most transformative role I’ve ever had. It felt like this great mask. I would look at myself in the mirror and I didn’t see myself.”

Credit: Peacock

Credit: Peacock

IF YOU WATCH

“A Friend of the Family,” debuts Oct. 6, 2022 on Peacock with three episodes and new episodes weekly after that through Nov. 17.